Unlike physical or sexual abuse, emotional abuse can be much harder to pinpoint and recognize. Emotional abuse often is inconsistent in amount and duration and happens in multiple forms. At its core, emotional abuse plays into deep-seated fears of rejection, abandonment, unworthiness, shame and lovability.
Projection and gaslighting are two major tactics used in emotional abuse. Projection is the act of placing unacceptable feelings or unacceptable wants or desires onto another person. For example, a person who feels inferior constantly accuses others of being stupid or incompetent.
The goal of projection is to shift responsibility and blame from ourselves onto someone else. Victims of emotional abuse are unaware that someone else’s feelings are being projected onto them, so they interpret “projected feelings” as belonging to them.
Gaslighting aims to create a great amount of confusion and self-doubt in the victim. The term is based on the stage play and movie “Gaslight,” in which a husband attempts to drive his wife crazy by dimming the lights in their home, and then denying the lights were dimmed when his wife points out this fact. It is a form of emotional abuse because it causes victims to question their own feelings, memory, instincts and sense of reality.
Projection and gaslighting are crucial reasons for why victims do not recognize emotional abuse when it is happening. Ultimately, projection and gaslighting create a deep sense of confusion, self¬doubt, incompetency and fear. They make it difficult for victims to think clearly enough to take protective actions for themselves.
It is important to note that people who were emotionally abused as children are at greater risk for being victims of emotional abuse as adults. If you or a loved one is a victim of emotional abuse, it is important to seek help from a professional. There is hope for a better future.
Below are some signs of emotional abuse:
- Stonewalling. Not all emotional abuse is verbal and involves shouting or criticism. Stonewalling is cutting off all communication by giving someone the “silent treatment” until they do what you want them to do. Refusing to see the other person’s perspective by minimization or disengagement is another form of stonewalling.
- Emotional withholding. Emotional withholding happens when love and affection are withheld in order to communicate anger. Emotional withholding creates a great deal of anxiety in the victim because it plays into our fears of rejection, abandonment and worthiness of love.
- Twisting. Twisting occurs when the victim confronts the abuser. The abuser deflects attention from themselves by twisting facts around in order to place blame or responsibility onto the victim. They then demand an apology to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.
- Irrational and intense rage. Bouts of intense rage and fury without obvious or rational cause creates a great amount of fear and uncertainty in the victim. Intense rage episodes are shocking and startling, forcing the victim into silence and compliance.
- Trivializing accomplishments. Emotional abusers need to feel dominant and superior in order to cope with their deep-seated feelings of inferiority, shame and envy. Tactics of trivializing others’ accomplishments include mockery, belittling goals, ignoring accomplishments, and finding ways to sabotage another from achieving his or her accomplishments.